April 10, 2024

For a new mom, talking about her worries helped her heal

One in 5 people experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health challenges during and after pregnancy.

Learn about care options for people who are dealing with mental health issues during and after pregnancy.

After dealing with infertility, Bree was elated when she became pregnant through in vitro fertilization. But soon afterward, she began to feel anxious.

“I was scared out of my mind. Every day I woke up thinking I was going to lose this pregnancy, or something was going to happen to me. And all the work that we did to get pregnant wasn’t going to be worth it.”

Adding to her worry were feelings of shame.

“Pregnancy is supposed to be this beautiful thing. It's supposed to be this blessing that's happening to you,” said Bree, a Kaiser Permanente member and employee who asked that we use her first name only.

“And if you share with people that you’re struggling, there’s a sense that something's wrong with you and you don't deserve to be a mother.”

Bree began withdrawing from family and friends. As she did, her anxiety worsened.

A hidden epidemic

Bree’s experience isn’t unusual. Mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and substance use disorder affect 1 in 5 women during and after pregnancy.

This concern is even more prevalent among Black women, who experience mental health conditions during and after pregnancy at nearly twice the rate of all women.  When Black women experience these challenges, up to half don’t receive any support or treatment.

Left untreated, maternal mental health conditions can have a devastating effect. A 2022 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found they were the leading underlying cause of pregnancy-related deaths.

“Pregnancy and postpartum can often be the first time that people have mental health symptoms,” said Michelle Gebhardt, MD, an ob-gyn with Kaiser Permanente. That’s why we ask pregnant patients to fill out a questionnaire about their mood. “We ask multiple times because we want to see if these symptoms are getting better or getting worse.”

Signs of depression and anxiety can include:

  • Feeling sad and tearful
  • Having difficulty sleeping
  • Having difficulty getting out of the house
  • Having anxiety or intrusive thoughts

“If you're experiencing these symptoms more days than not, and if they're intense and lasting, please reach out to us, because we can help,” Dr. Gebhardt said.

Bree with her husband, Nate, and their daughter.

Bree with her husband, Nate, and their daughter.

Help is available

Kaiser Permanente offers a range of care options for pregnant and postpartum patients dealing with mental health concerns.

“That can include one-on-one therapy or connecting with other moms struggling with the same issues in group settings,” said Dr. Gebhardt. “We also have really safe, effective treatment medications.”

Bree’s turning point came a year after her baby was born. With her doctor’s encouragement, she decided to try medication for her worsening anxiety. And she began sharing her feelings, both with friends and on social media.

“I needed to let it out because it was eating me up,” she said. “Hearing that I wasn't alone really helped.”

Bree urges other mothers to seek help if they need it.

“You're not a bad person if you need help. It doesn’t make you a bad mother. And once you help yourself, you’re better able to help that little person you brought into the world.”